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4.6 8
by Larry Watson

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In the summer of 1955 I met Laura Coe Pettit, and the moment of that meeting was the one from which I began a measurement of time. Clocks and calendars can try to convince us that time always passes in equal measure, but we know better: Our thirty-fifth summer passes five times faster than our seventh, and for years my life speeded up or slowed down according


In the summer of 1955 I met Laura Coe Pettit, and the moment of that meeting was the one from which I began a measurement of time. Clocks and calendars can try to convince us that time always passes in equal measure, but we know better: Our thirty-fifth summer passes five times faster than our seventh, and for years my life speeded up or slowed down according to my meetins with or departures from Laura.

Love captures Paul Finley in, of all places, his own bedroom—literally waking him from his dreams. The night he discovers Laura Pettit standing at his windowsill, Paul is eleven years old, a boy naturally inclined toward seriousness, precociously adept at the art of watching the world without being watched. Laura is twenty-two, a fiercely passionate and independent poet already experiencing the first flickers of fame, a beautiful woman on the brink of seducing Paul's father. No matter; Paul is smitten. When she leaves him to rejoin the grown-ups' party downstairs, Laura issues Paul a wholly impossible command, one that will haunt and consume both of them for the rest of their lives: "Forget me."

Laying bare the inner life of one man during the course of nearly four decades, Larry Watson delivers a riveting treatise on the excruciating power of love—and two of the most remarkable characters in recent American literature. Infused with breathtaking pathos and delicate grace, Laura is an extraordinary triumph of the novelist's art.

Editorial Reviews

Erin Doyle
Watson's novel traces the relationship between Paul Finley and the fictional poet Laura Coe Pettit. When Paul is eleven, he meets the young woman who eventually becomes his father's mistress. One middle-of-the night encounter is all it takes for Laura to entrance Paul for the next thirty years. At its weakest, this is the story of one man's senseless obsession, drawn out over three decades and sometimes rendered as painful melodrama. At its best, and most of the writing falls at this end of the spectrum, this is a lyrical portrait of a family unraveled and the manner in which a powerful encounter can resonate through an individual's life.
Kirkus Reviews
The story of a man's long obsession with a beautiful woman poet, the latest from award-winning novelist Watson (White Crosses, 1997, etc.). Paul Finley, the narrator, has loved Laura Pettit since the summer of 1955 when he was 11, and she, slightly drunk, came into his bedroom one night to talk to him.The family was spending the summer in Vermont, and Laura, 22 at the time, was already a published poet who had come there to spend time with his father, Robert, a noted editor. Confessing that she can't control what she says, she asks Paul to forget her and everything she's said. But quiet, observant Paul cannot forget, and when his gregarious father divorces his mother, who moves with Paul and his sister to Minnesota, the boy continues to think about Laura. During a visit with his father, the now-adolescent Paul accidentally sees Laura and Robert making love. Naturally, this adds a sexual element to his obsession, which only intensifies when Laura becomes a famous poet and national icon. Paul sees her again at his father's funeral, and then, in medical school in the late 1960s, he learns that she is to be a featured speaker at an antiwar rally in Chicago and contrives to cross her path. Laura, whose entourage includes her current lover and her sociopath brother, asks Paul to drop out of school and join them on a bus tour promoting peace; he's tempted but doesn't. Later, married and practicing medicine, Paul is still haunted by Laura. Convinced that the chest pains currently troubling him are caused by the long repression of his feelings for her, he drives across country to confront Laura at last. A finely wrought, if emotionally cool, tale of enduring passion. (Author tour)

From the Publisher
The Denver Post Laura is the kind of novel that, once started, is hard to put down.

The Washington Post Powerful and unsettling.

Chicago Tribune Immediately drops the reader into the world of obsession, with all its uncertainties, complications, and longing....A deft double biography.

Book A lyrical portrait of a family unraveled and the manner in which a powerful encounter can resonate through an individual's life.

Kirkus Reviews A finely wrought...tale of enduring passion.

The Capital Times (Madison, WI) Watson brilliantly and compassionately shows how a relationship between two complex people can change (and not change) over time....He tenderly and honestly depicts the relationship between a father who denied himself nothing and a son who denied himself everything. And how both paid the price.

Atlanta Journal-Constitiution An entertaining cognition on how far obsession can twist a person.

Register-Pajaronian (Santa-Cruz, CA) Larry Watson has captured the unforgettable and excruciating power of love gone awry in Laura.

Product Details

Atria Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.55(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In the summer of 1955 New England lay shimmering under one of the worst heat waves of the century. But don't try to verify this in any of the weather annals. No, this heat was intolerable not because of record-setting temperatures but because of what seemed like an unending succession of sweltering days. Swimming pools that summer were so swarming with people you couldn't swim a stroke, and beaches were so littered with bodies you couldn't walk fast enough to let the air move around you. Movie theaters, because they advertised their air-conditioning in icy blue letters, did record business, and stores that sold Popsicles, electric fans, or cold beer were certain to sell out. If you lived in a city and could leave, you left.

In 1955 my family was one of the lucky ones who could escape. My father, Robert Finley, was an editor at Harrison House, and he was not often required to be in his office during the summer. He frequently brought his work home to read and edit anyway. My mother, Doreen, taught English at Westcott College for Women -- as it was called then -- and always had the summer off. So, after the middle of June, when my sister, Janie, and I finished our week of French camp, our family headed for the cool green hills of Vermont and left behind our fellow Bostonians, stuck to the city and each other with their own sweat. That summer Janie was eight and I was eleven.

In Vermont we rented a large old Victorian house with a huge front porch that tilted toward New Hampshire. The house was in the middle of an empty, sun-struck field, and less than fifty yards away a stagnant pond steamed and stunk in the heat, but my sister and Iwere forbidden to mention the smell. Trees were ringed all around us, but not one was within a hundred yards of the house. Standing stupidly by itself, the house looked as if everything had been warned away from it.

My parents' friends, however, certainly heard no warning, for they came visiting in droves. From New York or Boston or Philadelphia, they ran toward Vermont and us like animals that know the forest is burning behind them. When they arrived at our house, they put down their bags, sighed, smiled, and set themselves to days and nights of unrelieved, slightly hysterical, drunken recreation.

Most of my mother's and father's friends were writers, artists, and intellectuals, and many of them were younger than my parents. The few who were married were childless. That naturally made Janie and me curiosities, yet still figures to whom obeisance had to be paid. These were people who worshipped the spirit of youth, if not children themselves. So when the visitors arrived that summer, they brought toys, games, or sporting equipment for us. The problem, however, was that these gifts quickly found their way into the hands of the adults. Late into the night they sat around the kitchen table and played with Janie's Chinese checkers; they used my football in the early evening touch football games; in the heat of the afternoon women and men pulled lawn chairs up to the small blue inflatable wading pool Avis Holman brought for us and sat with their feet in the water and sweating gin-and-tonics in their hands; they played badminton with our rackets and croquet with our mallets; three of my baseballs were hit into the pond; and others put as many miles on our bicycles as we did.

In the midst of all those adults having so much fun, Janie and I were never exactly sure of what to do. We were not invited to join in, and it was clear our presence would be inhibiting. Nothing makes adults more self-conscious about playing children's games than children standing on the sidelines watching.

So how did Janie and I behave that summer? Both of us were, to begin with, inclined toward silence and seriousness, and to that part of our natures we drifted even further. Janie began to lower her gaze (my memory of her is always of her walking with her head down), looking away from the faces of people and down to the earth's surface, to the grasses, plants, weeds, and wildflowers growing there. I, on the other hand, developed and practiced a skill that I continued to sharpen in all the years after: I watched others while trying to remain unnoticed myself.

But all this is backdrop and stage-setting, my attempt to set the time and place of that season's essential occurrence: in the summer of 1955 I met Laura Coe Pettit, and the moment of that meeting was the one from which I began a measurement of time. Clocks and calendars can try to convince us that time always passes in equal measure, but we know better. Our thirty-fifth summer passes five times faster than our seventh, and for years my life speeded up or slowed down according to my meetings with or departures from Laura.

In our rented house my bedroom was right over the kitchen, the room where my parents and their partying friends always ended up because it was the one room where air moved -- the night breeze from the north blew in through the small window over the sink, fluttered the lace curtains, and fanned out through the big, brightly lit space before traveling out the screen door and past the porch where those people who couldn't fit in the kitchen sat. The scene was always noisy; a porch-sitter would tell a story loudly enough so a cupboard leaner could hear it. Laughter was constant, and ranged from one man's slow bass "huh-huh-huh" (a sound like heavy boots climbing the basement stairs) to a woman's staccato, soprano "ih-ih-ih-ih" (a giggle that reminded me of a birdcall). After the phonograph was moved into the kitchen, it never returned to the living room. Beer bottles clinked, glasses rattled, ice tinkled, the refrigerator door opened and closed, and I did my best to sleep through it all. So why, if I could sleep through that commotion, would someone's silence wake me?

When I opened my eyes she was standing in front of my window, gazing out toward the pond. She was smoking a cigarette, and as she exhaled, the smoke billowed through the screen so it looked as though the night were steaming right outside my window.

Though I tried not to, I must have made a sound -- a whisper of sheets as I jerked awake or perhaps my snoring stopped -- and she turned to me quickly and said, "Please. Don't tell anyone I'm here." Her voice had that low, reedy sound of exhaustion in it.

Her request was so urgent I immediately told her I wouldn't say anything, though I didn't know whom I could tell even if I wanted to.

"The door wasn't locked," she said. "I just ducked in here to get away from the party awhile. I thought I could hide here without bothering anyone. I didn't mean to wake you."

I was afraid, but I knew I wasn't threatened, so my fear was the type that people -- children, especially -- feel in the presence of something that mystifies and confuses them. And, of course, I couldn't go back to sleep, so I lay quietly in bed and tried to study this person who had found her way into my bedroom. The moon shone on that warm, clear night, and my narrow, floor-to-ceiling window let in enough light for me to get a look at her.

It's difficult for children to judge someone's height (every adult is tall) without standing next to that person or seeing him or her in a group, but by the way she was framed in my window I could see she was not much more than five feet. I could also tell she was extraordinarily pale because she wore a white shirt and both the shirt and her face had the same bluish-white luminescence in the moonlight. The sleeves of the shirt were rolled to her elbows. Her dark hair was very short, and with the hand not holding the cigarette she ruffled her hair over and over again, a motion so agitated and methodical it seemed she was trying to work an unpleasant thought out of her mind. I couldn't see her features clearly, but I could tell they were small and fine. If it weren't

Meet the Author

Larry Watson was born in Rugby, North Dakota, and raised in Bismarck. Honored with the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, a National Endowment of the Arts award, the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association Regional Book Award, and numerous other literary prizes, Watson teaches English at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. He is also the author of White Crosses, Justice, Montana 1948, In a Dark Time, and the poetry collection Leaving Dakota.

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Laura 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the moment eleven-year-old Paul Finley meets Laura Coe Pettit, he is besotted. The mesmerising young poet will capture his heart and haunt his soul forever. Over the following years, as the awkward adolescent grows into manhood, his life becomes entwined with the enigmatic older woman as their worlds collide and the novel builds towards its inevitable, shattering climax. Larry Watson has written a rich, beautifully crafted story about an obsessive and enduring love that lingers long after the final sentence. Some readers might find Laura a cold, unlikeable character but her selfish-at-times, abrasive attitude is needed to balance out the softer, sensitive Paul who would otherwise be too weak and wimpish. I had never read Larry Watson until I picked up a copy of Laura on impulse. I was drawn by the seductive cover, the back-page blurb got my curiosity, and I was hooked from page one. I really did find it unputdownable!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MyAntonia88 More than 1 year ago
Watson carefully crafted his characters with depth and charm. Laura's character is hypnotizing and it is easy to see why a boy like Paul fell so deeply into obsession with her. Watson made it easy to feel the feelings the characters were going through. He molded their personalities page-by-page and by the end of the book I felt as though I had lived to see the plight of long time friends. Watson shed great insight into the development of a lifelong obsession. His references to the times were on point. Watson's descriptions paint a seamless setting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a well-written book, though not as polished as the creme de la creme. It's great for those who have expeienced the infamous unrequited love. If you're not in that category the emotional impact of the book may be lessened.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Very well written book. Watson is great. This has to be one of the best books I have read. It's a must read..What a love story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Watson has created a masterful piece of work with this novel. Through his prolific writing, you're drawn into the story of prepubescent boy's obsession with a woman ten years his senior. The novel, which unfolds over the course of a few decades, never loses its momentum. The prose and the depth of each character, is something to behold. I HIGHLY recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book that once started, one must read till the finish. The story and characters stay with you for days after. That, in my book, is the sign of an excellent novel. This one has it-great characters, great writing.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In the summer of 1955 in Vermont, eleven-year old Paul Finley meets Laura Coe Petit for the first time when she escapes for a breather and a smoke from the party hosted by his parents. Laura, a twenty-two year old rising poet, was smoking a cigarette outside Paul¿s bedroom window when she inadvertently woke him up. They briefly talk and for the rest of his life, Paul knows that Laura is the mark that he compares other people, especially women, and his own sense of essence to.

Over the next thirty plus years, Paul and Laura have occasional brief encounters that further destroy any possible relationships the younger man may foster. Instead Paul remains obsessed with the woman he always knew he could never have. From the first time they met when he was a child she planned to seduce his father at that New England party.

LAURA is a an entertaining cogitation on how far obsession can twist a person. The insightful story line is well written (as expected from Larry Watson), especially the background historical events that serve as a bigger stage for the meetings between Paul and Laura. The secondary cast provides reflection, impetus, and depth although Mr. Watson never showcases them as he concentrates on Paul¿s psyche. The lead protagonist¿s obsession turns him into something that seems more like a stalker and quixotically, a more humane individual. Mr. Watson shows why he is an award-winning author with this compassionate character study.

Harriet Klausner